College are often using two popular but very conflicting approaches. They want to reduce alcohol abuse. Thus, some have inconsistent college alcohol policies
- One is an aggressive no-use, zero tolerance policy. It focuses on drinking or possession of alcohol. It stresses strong law enforcement. As well as strong penalties. And it commonly trys to “scare ’em straight.” It do so by hyping the dangers of drinking. (See Zero Tolerance.)
- The other is the social norms approach. It recognizes the fact of underage drinking. It reduces the harms from alcohol abuse. And it uses facts to correct misperception. For instance, that drinking and alcohol abuse are more common that they really are. This empowers students to abstain or to consume less. That’s what they usually prefer.
The evidence clearly shows that social norms marketing is a very effective method to reduce alcohol abuse. But it also shows that zero tolerance is not only ineffective by often counter productive. That is, it’s worse than doing nothing.
These two methods are based on greatly opposed assumptions. So their use is in conflictt with each other.
But many colleges are using both at the same time. This greatly reduces that ability of social norms marketing to be effective. Stressing or even exaggerating drinking is a problem. It’s inconsistent with publicizing the truth and correcting misperceptions.
Catering to pressures from different groups may be politically wise. But by doing so, they sacrifice the effectiveness of their social norms marketing. So they fail to meet the needs of students.